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Shark Bytes

September 2004 Shark Bytes

written by Monique Fallows

Posted on Thursday, 30 September 2004

Hello Shark Lovers!


This September has marked the end of our white shark season at Seal Island. During the month the predatory activity gradually tailed off, and again, we saw very few sharks up at the boat.


Kob, a summer fish in False Bay, is already being caught and all the tell-tale signs of summer are appearing, including the dreaded summer wind! During our South African summer the white sharks seem to leave Seal Island in search of other food preferences such as migratory summer fish and/or other sharks that have returned to the Bay. Such sharks are bronze whalers (copper sharks); ragged tooth, hammerhead and thresher sharks which all make up the white shark’s diet.


2004 has been a phenomenal season as we observed far more predatory action than in years gone by and in one day we recorded a total of 45 events over 4 hours. Previously the most we had observed was 26 events in one day. Even though the predatory activity was so intense we saw a decline in the number of sharks that came to our boat in a baited situation. They also seemed reluctant to stay around the boat. The most number of sharks around the boat in one day was 11, with the average being around 4 to 5 different sharks. In past years we would average between 12 and 14 different sharks per day. 


We are also starting to rethink a lot of what is happening at Seal Island. Because the weather was so good this season we were able to identify many of the sharks at successful kills and we observed a few of them feeding more often than we previously thought. Interestingly, on a most days we would observe certain sharks at feeding events, but not at the boat. So we had to ask ourselves how many other sharks are at The Island that we don’t know about. What can I say, sharks always surprise you…


We also saw very few of our “regular” sharks. These are sharks that we have seen very year for the past 5 years, and some that Chris has seen since 1998. But, we have got to know some great new characters that we will very much be on look out for next year. 


We only saw two or three sharks over 4 meters in length and a lot more smaller sharks. This is a little worrying for us as this means that almost all of the sharks we are observing are not sexually mature.


The last bit of news that I would like to mention is that last Sunday Rob was at The Island for what is probably his last trip of the season and he had a very special visitor to his boat. A certain large Lady arrived at his boat and immediately put her head out of the water to look at everyone and then disappeared. 


Undoubtedly, it was Rasta! Most readers know all about Rasta, and also know that she is my very favorite shark. Rob phoned us right away to let us know the good news; Chris & I were just overjoyed to hear that she is definitely still cruising the oceans! Apparently she is about 4,2 meters now (very big!) and is good condition. Most of the sharks that we see at Seal Island are less than 4 meters so we had not expected to see Rasta, even though we hoped. Although we did not get to see her, it was a fantastic way to finish off the season. The white sharks are already frequenting their summer jaunts which I will talk about later.


Over the last 4 weeks we have noticed many “green seals’ on Seal Island. These seals are entangled in green trawl netting. The seals pick this up when they are feeding off the fish caught in these trawl nets and when they are brought on board they are not completely freed of the netting. What results is a very slow death for the seal of either suffocation, as it grows into the net, or starvation as the seal struggles to feed with the inhabitation of the net. When we see them, Chris will try to catch them and release them which is a very difficult thing to do. Not only are they very difficult to catch, it can be dangerous when getting the netting free as they try to fight you off. We have released about 6 green seals this year, but there at least 8 on The Island that we cannot get to. It is very frustrating, and heart breaking, to watch. Seals have a very hard time of it. If they are not avoiding sharks, they risk being shot at by fishermen at sea. When Chris was on the fringes on The Island he noticed a seal that had bullet wounds lying in a fetid puddle. It was barely alive, but the gulls were beginning to feed on it. It is a terrible situation to tell you all about but I feel it is very important for people to know the reality of what goes on. The Sea Fisheries Management in Cape Town now know about the green seal problem and are hopefully going to make the trawl netters aware of how to correctly release these trapped seals.


Although our great white shark news is drying up there has been plenty of international shark news. Two stories in particular are note worthy. Firstly a 14 foot female white shark is trapped in a salt water pond off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Marine Fisheries has tried unsuccessfully to return the shark back to the open ocean. They have also tried to feed it but also have had no success. She apparently is still in good condition and it is hoped that she will shortly leave the shallow area on her own accord.


There are some very interesting photographs, and news items, on the following website: http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/dmf/marinefisheriesnotices/white_shark.htm#photos .



It looks like the area has been closed of to provide security for the shark. The public interest has been huge in a positive way. Let’s hope she can make her own way back to safe waters.


The second big news story is that Monterey Bay Aquarium in California has successfully kept a white shark on display for 14 days now. Although other Aquariums have in the past tried to exhibit a white shark, none have been successful for longer than 16 days. One of the biggest problems is that the sharks have not fed. This tiny 4-foot4-inch female has been eating salmon fillets on most days and reports are that she is doing very well and is strong. She is being held in the Outer Bay Tank. Chris & I have spent many hours in front of this tank in awe of the bluefin and yellowfin tuna that are on display. I can’t really imagine what a white shark cruising around must look like. I am sure that the people watching the shark must be putting on quite a show for her!


The new-born shark was accidentally caught in a commercial halibut gillnet on August 20th off Hunting Beach. She was then held in a four million gallon ocean pen until being transported to the Aquarium.


A lot of people have emailed us with concern about keeping a white shark in captivity. Although we are a little sad that this mighty, mysterious Lord of the Sea is contained we feel it is so important to educate people about sharks, and also make people aware of the need to conserve them. Nothing stimulates interest more than actually seeing something in the flesh. Valuable information will also be learnt from being able to monitor a white shark 24 hours per day, so there are many more positives than sentimental negatives to this project. What I can say with certainty is that Monterey Bay Aquarium is the best aquarium in the world to undertake this. The most important aspect for me is that the animal’s welfare is the priority. We personally know the team at Monterey and know that they would not do anything to jeopardize the shark. They will also have a release plan for the shark should anything go wrong. There are daily updates on Monterey’s website http://www.montereybayaquarium.org./ if you would like to follow her progress.


Two days ago a friend of ours called us from Boyes Drive which is a famous road affording a beautiful view over False Bay. From the road he had spotted not one, but two white sharks. We raced over not really expecting to see them but got to watch them for over an hour as they patrolled the whole length of Muizenburg beach and then towards St James and then back again. They were definitely aware of one another and at one point they were within 5 meters each other. Once one had swam the length of Muizenberg it passed right over the reef at Bailey’s Cottage, and both came very close to shore on the Bailey’s Cottage side. They were also very interested in surface objects and both came up to have a look at paper and kelp on the surface. The beaches were cleared of bathers which was a very sensible thing to do. We all know that prevention is better than cure. We believe that the white sharks constantly patrol this area in summer as this is were the fish are. Many people cannot understand why there are far more sighting of white sharks these days and I think there are two major reasons for this. Firstly a lot more people are on the look out for sharks whereas before people did not think about them. Also the fish resources are being diminished and the sharks are probably forced to look for food in areas where they previously did not have to go. We know the bathers and surfers would not appreciate this, but it was fantastic for us to have a unique observation of two white sharks on their own business.


Chris & I are going to be spending some time in Etosha National park in Namibia for a bit of a change looking at land animals. I am pretty sure that I won’t have any sharky stories for October, but will be back for November…


Until then,

Best wishes

Monique Fallows


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